Photoshop Tutorial: Make a Portrait Stand Out Against a Distracting Background

Making a portrait stand out against a distracting background can be a challenge, especially when working with cluttered or contrasting environments. In this Photoshop tutorial, we’ll explore techniques to isolate your subject and make them the focal point of the image.

Step 1: Open the Image and Assess the Background

  1. Begin by opening the portrait image you want to edit in Photoshop.
  2. Carefully examine the background and identify any distracting elements that may compete with the subject for attention. Common distractions include busy patterns, contrasting colors, or objects that draw the eye away from the face.

Step 2: Create a Selection Around the Subject

  1. To isolate the subject from the background, use a selection tool that suits the shape of the subject. If the subject has a defined outline, the Pen Tool or Quick Selection Tool can be effective. For subjects with softer edges, the Magic Wand Tool or Lasso Tool may be more appropriate.
  2. Carefully create a selection around the subject, ensuring that you capture all of the essential details. If necessary, adjust the Feather setting of the selection tool to soften the edges and blend the subject with the background slightly.

Step 3: Create a Layer Mask for Background Removal

  1. Once you have a satisfactory selection, create a new layer mask by clicking the “Add Layer Mask” icon at the bottom of the Layers panel. This will create a transparent layer that corresponds to the selection.
  2. Fill the layer mask with black. This will effectively hide the subject, leaving the background visible.

Step 4: Reveal the Subject with Brushing

  1. To reveal the subject, use the Brush Tool (B) with a soft-edged brush and a low opacity setting. Set the foreground color to white.
  2. Paint over the layer mask, gradually revealing the subject while maintaining the background hidden. Use varying brush intensities to control the transparency of the subject.

Step 5: Refining the Background

  1. If any areas of the background still appear distracting, you can use the Eraser Tool (E) to selectively remove them. Choose a soft-edged brush with a low opacity and carefully erase any remaining distractions.
  2. You can also use adjustment layers to further enhance the contrast and saturation of the subject while maintaining the subtle blending between the subject and the background.

Step 6: Adjusting Skin Tones and Lighting

  1. If necessary, use the Skin Tone Adjustment Tool or the Dodge and Burn Tools to refine the skin tones and enhance the overall lighting of the portrait. These tools can help to add depth and dimension to the subject’s features.

Step 7: Final Touches and Saving

  1. Once you are satisfied with the overall appearance of the portrait, review the image carefully to ensure that the subject is effectively isolated and the background is no longer distracting.
  2. Save the modified portrait image in a high-quality format, such as JPEG or TIFF.


By following these steps in Photoshop, you can effectively isolate your subject from a distracting background, making your portrait the focal point of the image. This technique is valuable for creating professional-looking portraits and enhancing the impact of your photographic work.